Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Made in America

I found your blog a week ago and have been reading your articles.  How did I know you would come out on the anti american side of the ground zero mosque today? You pretend to be so much smarter than the rest of us but you sure have your head up your ass.  I’ve never seen anybody so consistently wrong about everything. Have another cup of Obummer coolaid LOL!  I can’t understand how you can hate your country so much, but I can sure see why you worship your america hating president. You are so predictable. Non americans like you should just get out and move to france if you hate America so much.
Anti-American? Non American? Me?

I’m on the non-American side?


How the hell did that happen? See, somehow, I thought religious freedom was as American as NASCAR, shooting holes in road signs, and fear-mongering bigotry. Doh. I didn’t even know there were sides – well, I mean I knew there were teams, I just didn’t know we’d given them names.  Just so I’m clear, one side is the “Anti-Americans?” What’s the other one? The “Assholes?”

Non-American? What the hell does that even mean? As an insult?

The admiring email above got me thinking, I don’t know what non-American means but I think I can figure it out from the context.

But that begs the question, what does American mean? 

What exactly makes you an American? 

It’s certainly not geography. Canadians live in North America, but they’d sic their polar bear infantry on you and pelt you with empty Molson bottles if you called them Americans.  Mexicans live in North America too, nobody calls them Americanos, not even the ones that live in LA and make the burritos and mow the grass. Ditto for Central and South American countries. You never hear: I’m an American!” “Really, where are you from in America?” “Tierra Del Fuego!”

Is it skin color?  Once upon a time you had to be white to be a real American.  Or did you?  People of color, both free and slave, fought in the American Revolution – you know, the war that actually created this country.  And despite the fact that many of those people ended up as property in their oh so grateful newly formed homeland, a significant number were free Americans right from the start. They couldn’t vote of course, and often couldn’t own property if a white man objected – but right from the founding of the United States skin color wasn’t a defining criteria for Americanism.  Oh sure, there were plenty of tri-corner hat wearing assclowns who wanted it otherwise and we’re all familiar with what happened, the lynching and the KKK and Segregation and Jim Crow and Separate But Equal But Not Really.  Eventually, however, we got around to finishing the Civil War with the Civil Rights movement and we settled that question once and for all.  No specific race makes you an American.

Is it gender? Once upon a time you had to pee standing up in order to vote and own property, to be an actual American.  Surprisingly, women put up with that nonsense a whole lot longer than you would have expected, but eventually the suffrage movement ended such silliness and settled the question. Gender doesn’t make you an American.

Is it ethnicity? There was a time when it was deemed that German-Americans and Italian-Americans were real Americans, and the less-American Japanese-Americans got herded into camps.  Of course, those Japanese-Americans only got penned up for four years and in the end faired better than Native-Americans who got herded onto shitty reservations permanently.  We’ve spent a hell of a lot of time feeling guilty about that and numerous similar episodes, making insufficient reparations, and promising insincerely that it won’t happen again. It also turns out that we like ethnic food, and ethnic festivals, and ethnic holidays, and we consider those things as American as St. Patrick’s Day and fortune cookies.  So we’ve pretty much established that ethnicity isn’t a benchmark of American-Americans.

Is it moving and shaking? Used to be real Americans were well bred and high born and owned steel factories and oil companies and built railroads and were timber barons and lorded over whole damned towns. Everybody else just sort of worked for them.  After WWII though, we ended up with a middle class and it turned out that you didn’t have to be a tycoon to be a real American.

Is it culture? Is it the coast you live on? Is it your music? Is it the food you eat? Which is more authentic America? New York or Los Angeles? Deep dish or Chicago Style? Biggie Smalls or Tupac? Broadway or fish tacos?  Which is more American, Country and Western or Rock and Roll? Rap? Hip Hop? How about Bluegrass and the Grand Ole Opry? Is it your job? The car you drive? The beer you drink? All of those things are American, but none make you an American.

Is it your religion? There are a rather large number of folks, all of them Christian, who insist that it is. We had a president who said in no uncertain terms that if you weren’t a Christian, you weren’t an American – nice of him to make it clear that he only represented those Americans he thought were worthy of the title wasn’t it?  Texas erased Thomas Jefferson from their school history books, because he wasn’t Christian enough to suit them and therefore not a real American. Thomas Jefferson. Astounding, but then Texans tend to regard anybody not from Texas as somewhat less than American – pretty funny for a bunch of folks who keep threatening to secede from the Union every time we turn around.  But of course, being a Christian doesn’t make you an American, despite George H. W. Bush’s idiotic statement to the contrary.

Is it age? Do you have to reach a certain age to be an American? Is it military service? If you’re eighteen and can fight and die for America, are you an American then? What if you don’t serve, are you still an American? All those talking heads, Dick, Rush, Sarah, Glenn, Sean, Rupert, Michelle, not one them served, not one single day, are they Americans? Of course they are, military service doesn’t make you an American – otherwise a whole lot of very prominent conservatives would be shit out of luck.

Is it because you buy American? It’s a nice idea I suppose. Patriotic after a certain fashion. But of course nobody can buy only American, can they? So I guess that’s not it either.

Is it because you speak English? Is it your politics? Is it your driver’s license and the car you drive? Is it your school? Your haircut and the clothes you wear? Thirty years ago, when a bunch of long haired hippies camped out on the Washington Mall to protest the government’s actions, conservatives called them traitors and said protesting the government was down right un-American.  The shoe is on the other foot now, isn’t it? Guess we’d better be careful defining who is and who isn’t an American by who is calling the government a bunch of fascists, eh?

None of those things conclusively make you an American, do they?

So what does?

Point to one trait that decisively makes somebody an American.

Just one.

Wait, is it because you were born here?

It is, isn’t it?

For a hell of a lot of folks, that’s exactly what being an American is: an accident of birth. Nothing more.
They just happened to be born here. That’s all. They didn’t do a damned thing to earn it. They didn’t do a damned thing to deserve it.  They didn’t decide to be an American.  They simply came squalling into the world on American soil or were born of an American parent.  They could just as easily have been born Canadian or Mexican or Tierra Del Fuegan. They speak English because their parents spoke English because the majority of the people who founded America spoke English, it’s not better, it’s just an accident. Their birth, their language, their customs, their culture, their music, their religion, their gender, their race – none of it was anything they chose. It wasn’t a conscious decision on their part, they just happened to be American. 

Does that make them any more American than the next guy?

You know, the next guy who did choose to be here? Who sweated and worked and schemed and slaved and sacrificed to be here? Who was willing to break the law and risk his or her very life and freedom to be here? To have their children here.  Who believed in the opportunity of America so much they were willing to give up everything they knew and leave behind everybody they loved just to be here?

Does it? 

Is being an American defined by birthright?

A rather large number of Americans sure seem to think so.

But see, here’s the funny part, if birthright is what makes us Americans, well then it really can’t be all that damned special, can it?

After all, a bunch of real Americans seem to think you can just vote it away.

Answer me this: how can something supposedly so fundamental as being an American be something others can just take away?

Unless, of course, it’s not so special after all.


  1. Jim

    I'm really disappointed to find out that you are against the building of the community center. If you are anti-american you must be.

    I might point out that people worshiping the same god and the third most important prophet in Islam have a center just down the street from there, it is called Trinity.

  2. You're just really overthinking this. Apparently "anti-American" just means "a person who disagrees with my uber dicky worldview." While REAL Americans are "strict constitutionalists," except for that first amendment thingy, because that totally only applies to Christians.

    Also, REAL Americans don't capitalize proper nouns. Only limp-wristed commies who hate America do that. Apparently.


  3. @ Rachael

    It only supports their flavor of Christianity. All others aren't real Christians.

  4. Seems like it's always "move to France" these days--you know, the country that sorta won the American Revolution for us, gave us the Statue Of Liberty, and has had a whole sibling-esque love/jealousy relationship with our culture and principles for the past two centuries. (Sure, they act like they hate us sometimes, when they're not falling over themselves to imitate our music and so on; not trying to prop us up with that--it goes both ways, e.g. a whole generation of our filmmakers copying a whole generation of their filmmakers riffing off the previous generation of our filmmakers, etc.)

    I'd suggest it was that whole Thomas Jefferson thing--he loved France, the conservatives now hate him--but that's probably overthinking it. It's probably got more to do with so many right-wingers having their heads up their asses so much of the time that the assfumes are causing brain cancer. That's why we need the EPA, people.

  5. Stupid people - can't live with 'em, can't legally take 'em out back and bury 'em where the dog can't dig 'em up again.

  6. But are the zombies American?

    ingnmog- I don't even know where to go with this one?

  7. sheila, who isn't lurking today,August 18, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    I hear you, Jim, and I can't fathom it, either.

    I've been labeled as un-American since I was a teenager, when the Young Republican classmates discovered my father was British. Strangely enough, the foreign students at university didn't believe I was American, either (likely because I enjoyed hanging out with them and didn't sound like a Yank to them).

    I'm so used to it that I just say, "I'm not really an American. I just have dual citizenship because I was born here."

    My family would love to put a Union Jack on my father's grave on Veterans' Day (he's a Royal Navy vet from WWII who is buried in an American cemetery), but we won't do it because we worry that his grave would be defaced. How sad is that?

    What's really sad is that I've always felt it necessary to keep a sizable emergency fund in case I need to evacuate, either "back home" to Britain or to New Zealand (where my husband is from). I hope to be long gone by the time the crazies start herding up all the "furners" and nonbelievers and throwing them into camps.

  8. Jim,

    I've been lurking on your blog for a while, and have taken the liberty of linking to it on facebook (probably too many times).

    I really am glad that there is someone out there with the writing skills to succinctly say what you do with a good amount of humor. I'd just flail, rant and ramble.

    This is yet another post that makes me want to say thank you.

    Ok, enough with the "man-crush" (not that there's anything wrong with that), and back to my lurking.

  9. Sounds like this person's got a problem with the country he's living in. Maybe he ought to go to Russia were they like his "one size fits all" mentality of the world.

    And the whackaloon quotient goes up.

  10. Doug, as a general rule you just can't link to Stonekettle Station enough.

    Sheila, you know it's a sad damned commentary on things when you don't feel free, in America, to acknowledge your father's service in the Royal Navy on a day that was meant to commemorate all veterans - including those who served in the Confederacy. But I strongly suspect your family is exactly right, the same Patriots who would deny others the fundamental Constititional Right to worship as they please near Ground Zero, would be the first ones to tear down the Union Jack and discredit a veteran's service in the Allied cause during WWII - in the name of patriotism of course (oddly, many of these same folks lined the roads in order to catch an adoring glimpses of America's Princess, Diana, when she came to visit before her death)

  11. On my first reading of this post, I dismissed the response Jim posted as more mindless, drooling ranting from one who spends too much time in navel contemplation (note to the phantom responder: That means that you mindlessly stare at your belly button). Upon further review, the level of ignorance, bigotry and disregard for the true founding principles of this country, while staggering, are sadly all too prevalent among today's crop of right-wing mouth breathers. This is the kind of ignorant boob that, upon being forced to read Orwell's "Animal Farm" for a school assignment, wrote a report that described it as a "cute barnyard story."

  12. Apparently being American...or rather a flag waving in the back truck, never done an ounce of service for this country and never will, patriot of the good ole' US of A, means you can be a complete dumb ass and talk crud about someone who truly defines what a "Patriot" is.

    But just in case I've misread your email friend there Jim, if he is a vet and has an attitude like that, well then he completely missed the point of, why men and woman have fought and died so idiots like him could spew their hate without being locked up or shot without any consideration for the right of free speech.


  13. These people don't understand that once you declare who is in and who is out via some litmus test, their own citizenship will be in jeopardy some day.

    "But I didn't, mean for ME to be excluded!"

    Dr. Phil

  14. Being President of this country is entirely about character. ... America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free". ... We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.

    And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, [Jim's email-sending idiot] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it.

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And ... you scream about patriotism and you tell them, [President Obummer is] to blame for their lot in life....

    We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, [Jim's email idiot], you'd better come at [him] with more than a [NYC mosque]. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell [Jim] where and when, and [I bet he'll] show up. This is a time for serious people....

    --Aaron Sorkin, 1995
    (effin' genius)

    supidn = hard to find an email more supidn the one Jim' posted

  15. Delurking!

    One minor quibble with your reply to the ... er, person with the opinion. People outside the USA do identify themselves as Americans. Not American Americans, but other kinds of Americans, usually abbreviated to... American.

    I found this out at the bar a couple of months ago. A whole gang of wannabe writers, us, eating, drinking, laughing it up and coversing to the wee hours (midnight, since it was Thursday and Friday is a work day.) H was sitting next to me, talking to someone across the table, as I was talking to the person on the other side of me; I overheard him say, "I'm an American."

    Me, turning around: "You are? I thought you were from Colombia?"

    H: "Yes, I am. I'm from South America. I'm an American."

    We proceeded to have a conversation about what you call North Americans, South Americans, Central Americans, and those folks who live in the West Indies. Also, what do you call someone from the USA, if not an American? USA-ian? USA-ese? USAmite?

    We figured that the default for American is 'someone born in the USA', as commonly understood, but calling someone born anywhere else in the Americas American wasn't out of bounds.

    Oh! And Canadians will NOT pelt you with Molson bottles, empty or otherwise! Thems worth money at the recycling place, donchaknow. The weapon of choice is stale Timbits (any flavor. Or flavour, if you want to be picky about it.)

  16. I heard that American-Canadians can turn in their empty Molson bottles for free healthcare.

  17. Canadian here. Yes, it's "flavour".

    These anti-Muslim crazies seem to be particularly active lately. I got a similar one the other day, suggesting that "us Americans" should blow up the mosque "while all the Muslims are in there praying". Nice.

  18. "us Americans" should blow up the mosque "while all the Muslims are in there praying"


    Because that's what Jesus would do. Right?

  19. These people don't understand that once you declare who is in and who is out via some litmus test, their own citizenship will be in jeopardy some day.

    Wise words, Dr. Phil. The words traditionally ascribed to Pastor Niemoller about the price Germans paid for apathy and parochialism under Nazism ought to be rote memorization for every man, woman and child on the planet, and sadly they aren't:

    "They came first for the Communists,
    and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."

    The rights a Muslim group have to legally use a site are my rights as an atheist and somebody else's rights as a Christian. And if we don't stand up for each other when called upon to do so, nobody will stand for us, either.

  20. That's exactly right, Eric, and I would caveat that with: Any "right" that can be taken away by will of the mob, is no right at all.

  21. OK, wait ... you support the Islamic center in the general vicinity of Ground Zero, so you're supposed to move to France? The same country that's trying to outlaw burqas?

    Oh, the delicious irony.

  22. Ha! I hadn't thought of that. I doubt the writer did either - I think the idea is that France is just a place where the icky liberals live.

  23. French Soldier: "I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries."

    Sir Galahad: "Is there someone else up there we can talk to?"

    French Soldier: "No, now go away or I shall taunt you a second time."

    How can anyone doubt the courage of the French?

  24. I think the idea is that France is just a place where the icky liberals live.

    Well, they are cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

  25. I would prefer a Robert Heinlein approach to citizenship, a la Starship Troopers.

    And then most people would find themselves out in the cold.

    And when I'm overseas, I identify myself as 'a citizen of the United States.' If I wanted to be lumped in with Canadians, Mexicans, and the rest of them, I'd say 'American.'

    I'm proud of my country and I identify it by name... not the continent it happens to be on.

    I must be an elitist. Sue me.

  26. Well, Jim, the good thing about the stuff I sent you is that it's not made in America. You'd hate ot think that Americans, even ones who were born in the old country, could make something like that here.

    Of course, I have eaten balut that was made in America, so what do I know?

  27. You should have corrected his email in a red font and sent it back.


    It's nice to know that the people that you deal with are relatively the same as the people I deal with.

    Unfortunately for me, you're able to handle their criticism (????) much more gracefully.


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